In a time when so many are stuck at home and watching more Netflix than usual, a new comedy from Greg Daniels, the creator of the US version of The Office, and starring Michael Scott himself, Steve Carell, seems like an easy win. When you combine that with the fact that it’s meant to be a satirical look at the president’s new branch of the military, Space Force, it seems like an endless supply of comedy. A silly military show from the people who perfected the workplace comedy–What more could you want in Netflix’s Space Force?
As it turns out, you could want a lot more. Space Force seemed like a perfect storm of TV magic, but ultimately it’s a total mess. Whether it’s the painfully unfunny jokes throughout, the spotty cast that doesn’t really mesh well enough over the course of Season 1, the poor story choices, or the incredibly bad timing, Space Force is an utter disappointment–whether you’re a fan of The Office or not.
It’s hard to start anywhere but the timing of the show’s release. While it’s easy to poke fun at President Donald Trump’s attempt to launch a brand of the military in outer space–it’s been late-night talk show fodder for years now–the United States is currently in the throes of a global pandemic, while Americans are protesting the brutal treatment of African Americans by police officers. Mocking one of the sillier aspects of the Trump administration just doesn’t feel very good at this point.
Beyond that, though, it’s hard to believe Space Force would have worked regardless of when it was released. Sadly, a lot of that falls on Carell, who leads this cast of characters much like he did on The Office. Unlike The Office, though, the actor doesn’t fit into his role at all.
In his role as General Mark R. Naird, Carell leads the newly-founded military branch as it attempts to occupy the moon. To embody the role, the actor has taken on a gruff, robotic voice that seems more like a chore for him to constantly use than anything else. I kept waiting for him to drop it when his fellow soldiers weren’t around, assuming that would be the joke. Instead, it’s just his voice, regardless of how forced and unnatural it sounds.
Unfortunately, it turns out that voice is just an extension of the character.. While Michael Scott was fun to watch because he was an over-the-top, ridiculous character stuffed into a suit and tie, working in an office, Naird is just robotic from beginning to end. He shows flashes of charisma here and there but is largely emotionless and almost impossible to relate to.
That spreads through his supporting cast, nearly all of whom come across as half-drawn. Whether it’s his teenage daughter (Diana Silvers), who is rebelling because she has nothing better to do, his wife (Lisa Kudrow), who is in jail for some unexplained reason, Space Force’s social media director (Ben Schwartz), who simply wants to capture everything for Instagram, or his closest confidante and Space Force’s chief scientist (John Malkovich), who is essentially just John Malkovich talking about space, most of the main characters feel half-baked.
There are two other characters who bear mentioning. First is assistant scientist Dr. Chan Kaifang, played by Silicon Valley alum Jimmy O. Yang. Much like Carell on The Office, Yang shone on Silicon Valley due to how utterly ridiculous his character was. However, he’s oddly cast on Space Force as the comedic straight man, which doesn’t really work for most of the series. By the time he gets his own subplot at the end of Season 1, it begins to gel a bit better, but chances are you’ll still be waiting for him to actually be funny.
Lastly, there’s Captain Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome), who is an astronaut in training under Naird. Newsome gives the best performance on the series, even if the show doesn’t know what to do with her half of the time. Ali spends a lot of the first half of the season just being placed wherever is convenient, from flying Naird around in a helicopter to spending a day essentially babysitting his daughter for some reason. Thankfully, the show begins to rectify that as she trains for her own space mission.
The lack of depth in most of these characters hurts Space Force. On The Office, Daniels made the ensemble surrounding Carell’s character as interesting and entertaining as he was, while also having them function as a unit. That doesn’t happen in Space Force.
Just as damning as the cast of characters, though, is the show’s sense of humor. It barely passes the low bar it sets with jokes that range from simply bad to downright offensive. Two episodes feature a running joke about an “angry young congresswoman” that is clearly meant to be a parody of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has previously taken aim at the real-life Space Force military branch. On its own, joking about AOC as an angry young congresswoman who doesn’t approve of the money spent on Space Force isn’t a very complex joke and is rather unfunny. However, the joke eventually devolves into a conversation between a decorated military general and an accomplished scientist about whether or not she wears panties, which is utterly tacky. That Daniels and his team of writers thought this sexist joke was worthy of their show is puzzling.
As for the story, it’s thin. Not much is shown of actually building Space Force from the ground up. Instead, the concept is introduced and then a quick time jump takes viewers to the lead-up to the branch’s first launch into space. You spend a lot of time watching Naird bicker with government and military counterparts, plot truly stupid missions like making a chimpanzee do a spacewalk, and neglect his daughter, with little focus on anything else. As the season begins reaching its conclusion, it shifts toward putting the spotlight on other characters a bit more, but still leaves a lot to be desired.
Ultimately, Space Force is simply a disappointment on almost every level. While it’s a good-looking show with a star-studded cast, illustrating that a lot of money was spent to make it, there’s very little to show for it. The characters are thin, the performances are largely forgettable, the jokes are simply bad, and the timing couldn’t be any worse.
So instead of investing your time in what could have been a great companion piece to The Office, do yourself a favor and watch Greg Daniels’ other show, the highly superior Upload on Amazon Prime Video. Then, just go ahead and watch The Office again on Netflix before it moves to Peacock.
And speaking of things you should be watching, consider listening to GameSpot’s weekly TV series and movies-focused podcast, You Should Be Watching. With new episodes premiering every Wednesday, you can watch a video version of the podcast over on GameSpot Universe or listen to audio versions on Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, and Apple Podcasts.
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